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TBTS Eustachian Ruminations, 11/11/09 Edition

November 11, 2009

Here we go again.  It’s time to start the obligatory end of the year “Best of” lists.  In one way I really hate these things, as they often turn into music journalism’s way to shamelessly self-congratulate each other on how insightful they have been throughout the year.  I can practically read the smugness throughout the blogosphere as various outlets tell us what we should be listening to and why we’re really stupid for listening to things that aren’t recommended by the powers that be.  I think I can speak for my brethren when I say that one of our goals here at TBTS has been to share music with you that we truly enjoy and then give you solid, defensible reasons why we think you’ll enjoy it too.  With that spirit in mind, and recognizing that many of you reading now might not have been with us earlier in the year, I’d like to dedicate a series of “ruminations” on some of my favorite albums of 2009 in the hopes of turning you on to something you’ll really like or allowing you to revisit some of your own favorites.  Today’s selections will have an African flavor, while subsequent posts will examine other musical genres.

The Very Best, Warm Heart of Africa

This is simply the most joyous, uplifting music I’ve heard this year.  The Very Best is the partnership of Malawian vocalist Esau Mwamwaya and British house producers Radioclit.  Mwamwaya had retired from African music and settled in London as a second-hand furniture shop proprietor.  Fortunately for us, his shop was down the street from Radioclit’s London studio, and he quickly struck up a friendship with the duo.  The Very Best released a free internet-only mixtape in 2008 that was an underground hit and their infectious blend of house beats and Malawi music is expanded on Warm Heart.  It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, you’ll find yourself dancing and smiling as you listen to this album, regardless of the fact that most of the songs are sung in Chichewa (the language of Malawi).  Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. each sing on a track and Architecture in Helsinki provides the music for “Kamphopo” (the only track that appears on the mixtape and the album both).  Trust me on this one, this is one album you don’t want to miss.  Click on the link above to go to the band’s Myspace page and sample some of the songs, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  **Note to Michael Jackson fans:  the mixtape contains an amazing version of “Will You Be There”.

Warm Heart of Africa was released on October 6, 2009 on Green Owl records.

Vieux Farka Touré, Fondo

If I had a vote for Album of the Year somewhere, this album would probably get the nod.  This is a phenomenal record on many levels, from Touré’s unmatched skill on the electric guitar to his powerful voice.  There’s a unique spirit to this record; where The Very Best are joyful, Touré is intense, sometimes fierce.  His music has an urgency that is fascinating if you immerse yourself in it.  Most of the songs on this album are straight up rock and roll songs delivered with West African instrumentation and sensibilities that highlight the deficencies of many present-day mid-tempo radio rockers.  “Sarama” is the best example of a rock song done right:  all driving guitars, double-timed rhythms, and soulful vocals.  In this way, Touré serves as a prism through which we can view the stale nature of much popular music today while at the same time showing us the many exciting avenues still possible in rock.

Fondo was released on May 12, 2009 on Six Degrees records.

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